The plight and achievements of the central California farm worker is brought to the forefront in "Chavez," but the motion picture falls seriously short of accurately depicting the importance of Larry Itliong and his peers, claimed a Seattle-based organization.

The Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) said the film fails to emphasize the multi-ethnic allegiance between Mexicans and Filipinos of the United Farm Workers.

Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, author and associate professor, dept. of history, at San Francisco State University, saw the film last week and "was very disappointed."

"As a historian of the Filipino American experience, of American history, and of American labor and social justice movements, I think the film did not focus on the aspect of Chavez's life and that era that were the most pivotal and important," Mabalon said.

The camaraderie between Filipinos and Mexicans, "that was at the heart of the Grape Strike" was relegated to the background, said Mabalon, acknowledging that the film is "based on a true story" and not a

documentary.

"We're so obsessed in Hollywood and in popular culture with believing that it's all up to one person, but that's impossible," Mabalon said. "What's interesting is not how one person does it all, but how a group of people come together and make change."

Itliong, portrayed by Darion Basco in the film, "does make a brief appearance, so that's something to celebrate," Mabalon said. "But he appears briefly, and without any context, in the lightning-quick camp strike scene and then in a brief argument with Cesar at a bar that makes little sense. Not including Larry Itliong and the Filipino strikers beyond the cameos and background shots, even going so far to remove Itliong from key scenes in which he was seated next to Chavez, shows a fundamental misunderstanding and distortion of the movement."

The message, Mabalon said, is that Itliong "couldn't have been very important, and that couldn't be further from the truth."

Yes, she said, it is a film about Chavez.

"But for Itliong to be almost completely left on the cutting room floor is inexcusable," Mabalon said. "It's absolute ignorance of how the Grape Strike and union really formed. It's like a movie about Martin Luther King's rise that relegates Rosa Parks to a couple of words and a background scene. To me, the film is too bland, too safe, and too inaccurate."

Mexicans and Filipinos "are two communities that had been the backbone of American agriculture through the 20th century, but had always been kept apart by divide and conquer," Mabalon said. "I don't think the scriptwriters or the filmmakers were interested in making a film that was historically accurate."

Despite the claimed flaws, "I see a lot of positives in the film," Mabalon said. "It brings farm workers' history to a new generation who thinks their vegetables and fruits just appear at Whole Foods. In a time when we've become so obsessed with food, the American culture couldn't care less about farm workers and that is tragic."

As the daughter and granddaughter of farm workers, Mabalon said if the movie "makes people think more deeply about farm workers, and maybe push for better wages and working conditions, then that's a

good thing."

Mabalon said the film has sparked "wonderful dialogue," including panel appearances by Dolores Huerta and Gil Padilla, two other key figures in the farm workers' struggles.

"I hope that we use this time to build, remember, and converse and share stories, and not let what the movie cut out divide us or make us bitter," Mabalon said. "It's Hollywood's fault that we've been erased, but if we don't use this time to share and learn, then it's ours if the Filipino American story continues to be silenced."

Itliong died in 1973 at 63 of Lou Gehrig's disease. Because he gave few interviews and didn't write an autobiography, "his history is lost to those who think the UFW is all about Chavez and the Mexican workers," said Mabalon, calling Itliong "one of the greatest labor leaders in American history and certainly in the Asian American and Filipino American community."

Strides have been made to elevate Itliong into the school system, Mabalon, citing Assemblyman Rob Bonta's successful bill, AB123, which calls for the teaching of Filipino American labor history in all public school history curriculum.

"A great first step," said Mabalon, adding that the documentary, "Delano Manongs," will be shown on PBS nationally through 2015.

Perhaps a future film could better portray Itliong's work, Mabalon said.

"We have to hold Hollywood accountable and demand responsibility," she said. "When done right, Hollywood films can be so powerful in teaching historical moments." ------ (c)2014 Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.) Visit Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.) at www.timesheraldonline.com